Thursday, June 28, 2018

Gem in the Canyon - No Matter How Near or Far

Driving by, you’d probably miss it… and even if you did see the sign on Coast Highway, you’d never begin to imagine just how magical and magnificent The Ranch at Laguna Beach property is. As soon as you start the short drive from the Aliso Creek Bridge up the tranquil road, you feel like you’re being transported to the hills of a place long forgotten. A time when people rode horses for transportation, when Western Union was the best way to send a message to someone and people took time to not only notice the roses but actually stop and smell them. The Ranch perfectly combines Old World charm with New World amenities.

My family and I chose to stay there recently for a few days. We had visited before but never spent the night or even gotten a look inside the rooms. It was an experience I will not soon forget. Though you feel like you’re a world away, I kept having to remind myself that I was only 4 1/2 miles from my home. Now, don’t get me wrong, Laguna Beach is truly one of the most beautiful, unique and welcoming communities on the map, but that 13-minute drive from our front door whisked us away to a wonder like no other. And an added bonus is that we didn’t have to waste any of our vacation time sitting in traffic on a freeway or waiting in line at airport security. We basically blinked and found ourselves in the middle of the wilderness surrounded by majestic mountains and lush greenery perfectly blended with a golf green and cabin class.

It’s like you’re taking a stroll through the days of yesteryear. No wonder The Ranch has been awarded a spot as a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World. This is quite an honor, because it’s the first and only in California and one of just six lodges to receive the invitation-only membership in the entire United States. The Ranch, along with every lodge on this V.I.L. (Very Important Lodge) list was rated exceptionally well in terms of the property’s authentic design and character, inspiring and interesting guest experience, top-notch quality of service, and sustainable tourism best practices exercising its commitment to conservation and green operations.

You’ve probably heard about the GOLF. It’s a 9-hole, GEO Certified® course encompassed by the natural spectacle of Aliso and Wood Canyons. Golfers enjoy a private atmosphere with the benefits of a public course. The most frequent onlooker you’ll see is a deer! Be ready to snap a cell phone photo of the graceful creature, but keep the ringer off, please. The silence adds to the ambiance. Well-known golf course architect, Gary Roger Baird, has contributed his design expertise to the course over the years. Players will notice changes in elevation on every fairway and so much more.

You’ve likely heard about the LODGING. It was my husband’s 50th birthday, so I decided to splurge a bit and surprise him and our son with a two-story, two-bedroom, two-bathroom cottage. The furnishings were fresh, beachy and inviting. I got a sense of upscale coziness everywhere I turned. I kept saying, “I could live here, I could live here.” The Ranch, of course, has regular rooms (though they’re far from regular) and smaller suites, and if you want to soar high above the rustic retreat of The Ranch, you can nestle up in the highly coveted Treehouse. Book in advance though. For this treasure, the early bird really does get the worm.

You might have heard about the FOOD. The Harvest Restaurant features breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the menus have recently been revitalized. We made a point of not leaving the property during our stay, so we ate every meal here. The d├ęcor inside reminds me of what a John Wayne chic chalet would look like. I could sit in there for hours and chat by the fireplace. But the outside balcony can’t be beat, no matter how cold it is. The views are simply stellar. Don’t worry if you don’t pack appropriately, your server will offer you a plush blanket and turn on the heat lamps. For breakfast, I would recommend the avocado and crab toast, but I suggest sharing this dish with someone and trying something you might not otherwise order. For lunch, the fried chicken sandwich gets my vote. And for dinner, I’d have to go with a wedge salad followed by steak frites, scallops and bacon, and crispy Brussels sprouts. No matter how stuffed you are, you’ll probably want to have at least a bite of the creamy chocolate dessert topped off with whipped cream. Life is short, satisfy your belly. And satisfy your thirst too. The exquisite bar inside Harvest is nothing short of country cosmopolitan featuring a 180-degree canyon view from every seat. Pure panorama.

I know. This all sounds incredible… and it is. BUT have you heard about the NATURAL SCENERY AND LANDSCAPING? The whole experience of The Ranch makes this place a must-see, but it’s the grounds and the peacefulness that make you pause every few steps, take a look around and breathe it all in. One day, my husband was golfing with a friend, my teenaged son was chilling in the jacuzzi with his buddy and I decided to take a little nature walk. What I discovered is, though the distance of my walk may have been little, the nature I witnessed was vast. Sure, you can see images of ALL The Ranch has to offer on the website,, but I want to share my journey with you. Though I can’t tell you what exactly I was looking at, I can tell you that I was mesmerized by every plant, tree, flower and rock along the way. I roamed the property with no agenda, no timeline, no stress. Having no care in the world brought me back to a simpler time – a time I miss dearly and am trying to incorporate into my and my family’s life. This was a much-needed escape. Couldn’t you use one? I eventually found myself on the paved path to the ocean. With “Beach” in the title of the resort, you might have guessed it was located by the water, but when you’re there it doesn’t seem plausible. The Ranch at Laguna Beach is an upscale summer camp by the surf complete with s’mores and a campfire. During your cruise to the shore, you’ll walk past a John Deere tractor and forget for a moment whether it’s 2018 or 1918. It’s hard to tell the difference and that’s by design... literally. The Ranch boasts a rich history and when the recent development began a few years ago, it was imperative that its background was maintained and celebrated. The property is an historic site, so it could not be leveled. The renovation did, however, involve taking the former buildings completely down to the studs, while keeping the original framework of the structures. More rooms were added and the entire property was updated. It has been completely transformed, while keeping the essence of its history. When you’re there, you actually get a feel for what The Ranch property was like way back when.

“The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s location in the Aliso and Woods Canyons has a rich history dating back to the 1870s. As a native of Laguna Beach, it was important to me that the historic property’s transformation perfectly blended the past with today to create ‘the coolest hotel in Laguna Beach,” something that cannot be found anywhere else in Southern California,” says Mark Christy, owner and proprietor. 

This brief time travel will give you a glimpse of its past, which has helped shape its present.
1871 – George and Sarah Thurston lay claim to a 152-acre homestead and a one-room wood shack. (Locals know the name “Thurston” mostly from Thurston Middle School.)
1940s – William “Bill” Bryant purchases an 87-acre site within Aliso Canyon and begins the construction of the golf course.
1950 – The 9-hole golf course is established as "Laguna Beach Country Club."
1956 – Ben and Violet Brown purchase the golf course and make plans for a destination resort.
1963 – The "Laguna Beach Country Club and Village" is introduced.
1967 – Ben Brown's Restaurant and a new Golf Shop open.
1970 – The property is renamed "Ben Brown's Motel & Golf Course."
1978 – The name changes to Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course.
2003 – The inn is purchased by Aliso Creek Properties, retaining its former name.
2013-14 – The Ranch at Laguna Beach arrives.

Though part of me doesn’t want to share the mystique of this marvel, I realize that it wouldn’t be fair to keep it to myself. Yes, come for the golf. Yes, come for the accommodations. Yes, come for the activities, the events, the food, the drinks, the pool, the spa. But whatever you do, don’t miss your opportunity to “check out” from the daily grind and walk, wander, get lost, sit down, ponder, reflect… and repeat. The Ranch at Laguna Beach is THE place to do that… time and time again. This retreat is a real treat.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

How do you say "Brewery & Grille" in Spanish?

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to dine at the new Laguna Beach Brewery & Grille in Downtown Laguna Beach. My husband and I have been anxiously awaiting the opening ever since Ocean Avenue Brewery closed down and new owners started the renovation. We had a long conversation one afternoon with proprietor Brad Bacon, who was telling us all about the upscale pub food he was going to serve. As big fans of tasty, hearty meals, our mouths were watering with anticipation. He seemed pumped about all the plans and he got us pumped too; however, according to an L.A. Times article that I found after we dined, it appears that he parted ways from the owners. This might explain why when we ate dinner there the other night, we were extremely confused. First of all, the entire menu is Mexican... every single dish. We love Mexican food, but with Carmelita's, El Ranchito, Tortilla Republic, two La Sirena locations, Laguna Feast, Taco Loco, Coyote Grill, Adolfo's, Wahoo's, etc., do we really need another Mexican restaurant here? We need good bar food! We don't have that many options! The name of the place completely throws you off. Why would Laguna Beach Brewery & Grille be a Mexican restaurant? They'll get tourists based on a google search, but will they return and will the establishment get repeat local customers? I'm not sure. They did a nice renovation of the inside and patio, but the red stools look cheesy and cheap. Don't get me wrong... I love red leather, but these look more like red vinyl. Now, if you get past the whole name/cuisine confusion, how's the food? Well, it's different... in a good way. They're calling it Regional Mexican Cuisine, so you may have many questions when reading the menu. Unfortunately, the waiters, though friendly, didn't have most of the answers to our questions. They kept having to "go check". I will say the steak taco on a crunchy flat tortilla was delicious and I did enjoy the appetizer with tortillas, beans, guacamole, salsa and cheese, but they pretty much give you that when you sit down, so it wasn't really necessary. The salad with the oranges was fine and I liked the chicken quesadilla well enough, but our 11-year-old son just thought it was mediocre. The Cadillac Margarita was good, but it didn't knock my socks off. So, all in all, would I go back? Yes, but I would wait a little longer till they get in the swing of things. Is it a place I will frequent and highly suggest to my friends? Not really. It's completely adequate, but not what I was hoping. And with all the businesses that open and close in Laguna Beach, it should be better than adequate to survive. I do wish the owners all the best, because it's a great location and I'm always looking for patio dining in Laguna. So, I leave it to you. Check it out for yourself and please share your feelings with us here at Lynda Laguna. Until then, cheers... er, I mean, salud!

Laguna Beach Brewery & Grille is located at 237 Ocean Avenue in Laguna Beach diagonal from the Wells Fargo building.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Wanting to Get Waterlogged

The summer season is quickly coming to an end (already over for many)... and it's HOT! So, if you've had enough surfing, skimboarding and stand up paddling in the last few months, here's a look at my list of the Top 5 Unique Water Activities you may like to try.

5. SNUBA - It's a combination of snorkeling and scuba. You basically get the experience of scuba diving without having to get certified AND there's no heavy tank to carry. It's offered all over Hawaii, in parts of Florida and on Catalina Island! Check out Catalina Scuba Luv or

4. Jetpack Flying - This looks AMAZING!!! It seems like it's straight out of a James Bond movie and that was apparently the goal when Chinese-Canadian Raymond Li invented it. He wanted to create one ever since he saw 007 in "Thunderball". Here's how it works. A jetpack is strapped to your back and attached to a tube that pumps pressurized water out, propelling you up, down, forward and backward high in the air or down into the water. Two places offer it in Newport Beach - check out and

3. Underwater Rugby - Picture all the fun of rugby without all the injuries. Two teams of six players chase a plastic ball filled with water from one end of the pool to the other trying to score goals and earn the most points. Players wear fins, headgear and masks, but they don't get as hurt, because they can't gain as much speed in the water. Can be played in any pool near you!

2. Horse Surfing - No, the horse is not doing the surfing... you are! This combines one person on a kiteboard holding a tow rope and another on a horse, with the horse doing all the work. Seems unfair to the equine! Just say "neigh!!!" Anyway, you skate across the water at about 25 mph without using any type of engine. Talk about horsepower! There are even horse surfing competitions all over the world. You can check it out online, if you like.

1. Glacier Surfing - This might be one of the riskiest water sports around. Not many people have even tried it, but back in 2007, professional surfers Garrett McNamara and Kealii Mamala successfully rode a wave caused by a splitting glacier. They spent three weeks camping in Alaska waiting for huge chunks of the icy wall to come crashing down creating humongous waves. McNamara told CNN that it was the closest he'd ever come to death. Keep that in mind if you're thinking about trying it!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Where to Find the Best Cold Treats in Laguna this Summer

Temperatures are heading back up into the 80s this weekend, so what are the best places to get a cold treat in Laguna Beach this summer? Here's my Top 5 list... but keep in mind there are a number of fabulous spots in LB offering juices, smoothies, blended coffee drinks and the like. Indulge and enjoy!

5. Gelato Paradiso - 448 S. Coast Hwy. Suite A
You'll definitely smell the freshly made waffle cones as you leave Watermarc or Nick's. Follow your nose towards the alley and you'll find flavor after flavor of the tasty Italian treat.

4. Active Culture - 1006 S. Coast Hwy.
After you leave Anita Beach with the little ones, pop into this spot for your choice of frozen yogurt with dozens of toppings, a Protein Dream Shake or a Blue-Green Envy Smoothie. The kids won't even know it's a healthier option!

3. Husky Boy - 802 N. Pacific Coast Hwy.
For more than 50 years, this drive-in style burger joint has been stuffing the faces of locals and tourists alike. It's one of Laguna's most recognized landmarks. Of course, they have a wide array of food choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it's also a great place to grab a cool dessert or snack. Dig into a banana split, sundae or root beer float and you'll be smiling from ear to ear! It's close to the beach, it has free parking and it's affordable. Mmmmmmmm!!!

2. Ruby's - 30622 E. Pacific Coast Hwy.
Ruby's became one of my favorite places to eat back in the day when I was attending U.C. Irvine and all these years later, my taste buds haven't changed! The Oreo shake is my all-time favorite, but you may prefer a malt, Coke float or double hot fudge brownie sundae. Whhhhhhaaaaaaattttttt?!? And the Laguna location introduced its ice cream bar about a year or so ago, so you can sample a couple flavors before deciding how to fill your cone. Ruby's is a beach staple in Orange County... and there's a reason!

1. Chantilly Ice Cream - 202 Park Ave.
You may not know the name, but you know the place. "The one across from Main Beach." Ice cream, frozen yogurt, frozen bananas... it's the go-to spot if you're hangin' at our most crowded beach or cruisin' around Downtown. This place will help you chill out, man!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Celebrating a PG-rated Patriots Day

The 49th Annual Patriots Day Parade takes place this Saturday in Laguna Beach (remember, some streets will be closed), so I'm counting down the Top 5 Patriotic Movies You Can Watch with Your Kids. They're all rated PG!

5. Rocky - Rocky Balboa goes up against Apollo Creed for a shot at the heavyweight boxing title. It happens on the 4th of July in the City of Brotherly Love. An underdog literally fighting to achieve the American dream - a lesson we can all learn from. (Sylvester Stallone, Burgess Meredith, Talia Shire)

4. Top Gun - Maverick, Goose, Iceman... need I say more? Probably not, but I will! The friendship and rivalry between these students at the Navy's fighter weapons school makes it worth seeing alone, but the fighter pilot scenes are awesome. Buckle up! (Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Kelly McGillis, Anthony Edwards, Meg Ryan)

3. Apollo 13 - "Houston, we have a problem." NASA must come up with a way to get the Apollo 13 spacecraft back to Earth safely after something goes seriously wrong. If YOU had a problem, wouldn't you want Tom Hanks on your side trying to save you? (Gary Sinise, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris, Bill Paxton)

2. Miracle - "Do you believe in miracles?" After seeing this movie, you will. Back in 1980, the U.S. hockey team pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sports history (I always hate that term "upset) used in this way) by beating the Soviet Union 4 to 3. U - S - A!!! U - S - A!!! (Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson)

1. National Treasure - Nicolas Cage plays a treasure hunter trying to get rich. He believes the map leading him to the fortune is written in invisible ink on the back of the Declaration of Independence. If you want to get your kids interested in and curious about American history, this is the movie to do it. Just be prepared to answer their questions or find the answers on the internet! (Diane Kruger)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Unique Valentine's Day Ideas in Orange County that Won't Break the Bank

Still trying to figure out what to do for your loved one this Valentine's Day? Maybe expensive jewelry or a trip to Aspen isn't in your budget this year... and going to a restaurant that's cranked up the prices for February 14th isn't exactly original, so what do you do? Perhaps this list of the Top 5 Valentine’s Day Gift/Celebration Ideas in Orange County might help you score some brownie points with your significant other AND allow YOU to have a blast too. Important tip: get one of these items for your sweetie as a gift, but DON'T schedule it ON Valentine's Day.  Too crowded, too pricey and not that special when you're sitting amongst hundreds of others celebrating, simply because the calendar tells us to do so. Make the romance last all year round!!!

5. Laguna Beach Food & Cultural Tour. Take a guided stroll through The Village as you learn about landmarks and historic sites. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, you’ll get the inside scoop on Laguna and get the chance to visit some cool, hidden spots you might otherwise miss. Enjoy 5-6 food tastings at various venues chosen for their uniqueness, character and delicious menu items. $55.00 per person. Takes about 3 1/2 to 4 hours. (949) 464-8830

4. Couples Massages. There are a number of places in Laguna to get couples massages – some at the higher end spas like the Montage and Surf and Sand… others at less expensive places like Massage Envy and Hand and Stone. At the chains, often times, you can get a deal, especially if it’s your first time there. And don’t think it won’t be a good massage if you don’t spend a fortune. Sometimes, they’re even better. It all depends on who you get. Search online to find the right couples massage for you and your special someone.

3. Private Surfing Lessons for 2. Really think about whether your significant other would enjoy something like this as much as you, before you book it. If you’d both like to hit the waves and take in the ocean air, this could be a fantastic gift. It depends on which company you go through, but it generally costs about $150.00 for 1 hour and $250.00 for 2 hours. This can be done right in Laguna Beach, if you like. Search online for the best options. 

2. Hit the Water in Newport! If you’d rather be in some type of a boat ABOVE the water, Newport Beach offers a number of fun options. Gondola cruise for 2 through Newport Harbor. It’s romantic, relaxing and memorable. Prices start at $137.00 for 1 hour. $197.00 for an hour and a half. You can upgrade a bit by doing a Gondola lunch cruise. $190.00 per couple. If you don’t mind sharing your experience with other people and you’d like some live entertainment, try the champagne brunch cruise. $86.00 per person. If you’d rather sleep in with your sweetie, go for the dinner cruise. $119.00 per person. Search online to find what’s best for you. 

1. Wine Tour in Orange County. Start out at Laguna Canyon Winery (open 11-6 Tuesday through Sunday, closed Monday). Then, YOU decide where to go next. Believe it or not, Orange County has a few choices when it comes to wineries. Giracci Vineyards and Farms is a fabulous choice. Ten acres of beautiful vineyards, vintage historic buildings, trails, streams, oak trees and riding. It’s off the 241 toll road in Silverado - about 35 minutes from Laguna. Wine tasting every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Another wonderful option is Hamilton Oaks in San Juan Capistrano. Gorgeous grounds - located on a historic landmark. You can also visit Newport Beach Vineyards and Winery, and Rancho Capistrano Winery. There are various tasting rooms across Orange County, as well. Be sure to get a sober driver or pay for a tour. Orange County Winery Tours costs $109.00 per person for 2 wineries and tastings. $139.00 per person for 3. Ride in style in a luxury SUV or limo. There are plenty of options for larger parties and some packages include a bottle of champagne to kick off your day just right. Lunch is arranged for you too, so all you have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy. OC Winery Tours (949) 203-3891

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Avoiding Coyote Chaos

Whether you live in Laguna Beach or Chicago, coyotes have been causing quite a raucous lately. There have been many sightings where I live in recent weeks, not only in the canyon, but in neighborhoods. Here are some helpful tips to help keep you, your family and your pets safe. -Always keep your dog on a leash and avoid retractable leashes. -Keep your dogs close to you. If you spot a coyote, pick up your dog if it's small. If it's a bigger dog, bring it closer and put it behind you. -Carry a big stick on walks and hikes. -Officers advise not to leave food and water outside for our pets, especially during the drought. -Barking attracts coyotes during the December to March breeding season, so try to keep your dogs from barking and bring them in at night. -If you encounter a coyote, back slowly away while hazing it - yell, wave your arms, use a whistle or other noisemaker, use a squirt gun, throw rocks at it. -If you often see a coyote on your regular walking route, avoid that path for a few months. You may be passing a den with pups or a mate. -And lastly, pay attention while you're out walking. Be on the lookout. If you notice a coyote in the distance, as opposed to right in front of you, you have more time to figure out what to do and options to avoid it.